Friday, July 28, 2017

mile after mile, who would have guessed

square miles of meagre modern houses whose principle purpose was the support of TV aeriels and dishes; factories producing worthless junk to be advertised on the televisions and, in dismal lots, lorries queuing up to distribute it; and everywhere else, roads and the tyranny of the traffic. It looked like a raucous dinner party the morning after. No one would have wished it this way, but no one has been asked. Nobody planned it, nobody wanted it, but most people had to live in it. To watch it mile after mile, who would have guessed that kindness or the imagination, that Purcell or Britten, Shakespeare or Milton, had ever existed
--Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
Iam McEwan's novel Amsterdam takes place mostly in London. I know this because I read the Guardian review of it; I haven't read the novel itself. I've been tempted, off and on, to read McEwan's book because it contains a character who composes classical music, and I have a sometime weakness for stories about composers. The probable high level of McEwanness in the novel keeps me away from Amsterdam, however.

When we were in Amsterdam, Mighty Reader and I went to a concert at the Royal Concertgebouw, a place I've wanted to visit ever since one of my older brothers bought a copy of Paul McCartney and Wings' "Band on the Run" and played it incessantly from 1973 until 1976 when he abandoned Wings and became a Rush fan and a Randian. Mighty Reader and I did not go to see either Wings or Rush at the Royal Concertgebouw; we went instead to an evening of chamber music, a program called "Dream with me," featuring songs from Romantic and Impressionist composers sung by mezzo soprano Cora Burggraaf, accompanied by cellist Pieter Wispelwey and pianist Ed Spanjaard. There were also a couple of fine cello and piano duets to break things up. Here's the program:
Brahms - Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante) (uit 'Tweede sonate in A', op. 100) (arr. P.R. Wispelwey)
Brahms - Zwei Gesänge, op. 91
Brahms - Ständchen, nr. 1 (uit 'Fünf Lieder', op. 106)
Brahms - Junge Lieder I/Meine Liebe ist grün, nr. 5 (uit 'Lieder und Gesänge', op. 63)
Dvořák - Rondo in g, op. 94
Chopin - Melodia (Melodie), nr. 9 (uit 'Poolse liederen', op. 74) (arr. M. Knigge)
Chopin - Narzeczony (De bruidegom), nr. 15 (uit 'Poolse liederen', op. 74) (arr. M. Knigge)
Chopin - Moja pieszczotka (Mijn lieveling), nr. 12 (uit 'Poolse liederen', op. 74) (arr. M. Knigge)
Sjostakovitsj - Het lied van Ophelia, nr. 1 (uit 'Zeven romances op teksten van Aleksander Blok', op. 127)
Debussy - Intermezzo, L. 27
Massenet - On dit!
Massenet - Elégie
Bosmans - Complainte du petit cheval blanc
Bosmans - Nuit calme
Bosmans - Le diable dans la nuit
Von Brucken Fock - Berceuse d'armorique
Von Brucken Fock - Les cigales
Diepenbrock - Berceuse
Ms Burggraaf sang in Dutch, French, German, and for an encore, English. It was all quite lovely music, well worth the effort of shifting ourselves after a busy afternoon of full-contact tourism. Mr Wispelwey fulfilled enough of my "rock show at the Concertgebouw" youthful dreams by taking on the affectations of a prog-rock lead guitarist, channeling Jimmy Page much of the time with his puffy-sleeved blouse, his head shakes, his aggressive posture and elaborate preparatory gestures. He also sort of looks like Robert Fripp, maybe after a few pints. Ms Burggraaf assumed a quite serious face during her singing, her brows perpetually knit in what seemed an habitual expression learned at the conservatory; a little distracting but her singing overcame the artifice of the sad face. She wore a pretty white dress. Mighty Reader's French and my German are good enough that we were able to translate the lyrics to each other, which is nice, not that I don't enjoy singing I can't understand at all: my iPod has a bunch of Paul Verlaine poems set to music that I can't comprehend but it's sure nice listening.

It was late, almost full dark and raining when we got out of the show. The tram station is directly in front of the Concertgebouw, so we hurried across the cobblestones and stood under the glass shelter with scores of other middle-aged people in nice clothes. Most of them got onto the first tram that came along, which was not our route, and so when our tram showed up a minute later, there were plenty of seats, which is a blessing at the end of a long day.

Chandelier in Royal Concertgebouw lobby. Photo by Mighty Reader.


  1. I'm just going to post links to your write-ups; they're so much finer than my own. That *was* a nice dress Ms. Burggraaf was wearing.

    1. I donno, you post better photos and are probably more interesting to most people who'd stumble through blogland. Also, my "fictional" Amsterdam/"real" Amsterdam conceit is already strained, don't you think?

  2. when i was a classical musician, i thought the Concertgebouw was the best orchestra in the world; i'm not sure i still don't... lucky you...

    1. I was a little disappointed when I discovered the concert was in the small hall instead of the main one, but we were in the second row, center stage, so the seats couldn't have been better, I think. We looked for something symphonic to attend but we were pretty pressed for time.

      Outside the Rijksmuseum, both days we went, there were two bands, one violin-and-accordion based, and one a string quintet with accordion. They played stuff like Monti's "Czardas" and the first movement of Vivaldi's "Winter," all pretty good for street music. Though I'm sure the members of the Concertgebouw remain sanguine about their own gigs.

  3. did you get a chance to ride bikes? i've heard that there are bike traffic jams there...

    1. We rented bikes for a couple of days in Amsterdam, and a couple of days on the island of Texel. Biking in the Netherlands is pretty well integrated into the culture; in Amsterdam there are dedicated bike paths between the sidewalks and vehicle lanes of most big streets, and everyone (including pedestrians) yields to bikes. It was pretty damned terrific, a real change from Seattle. Outside the city there are bike paths leading all over the place, with mile markers and directional fingerposts at each intersection. Aside from the headwinds (gusts up to 35 mph) it was terrific. I don't like the Dutch bikes, though. They weigh a ton and have a high center of gravity. I suppose one gets used to that, but I was happy to be riding a proper bike again when we got back home.

      I am advised that calling hybrids and road bikes "proper bikes" as opposed to the Dutch city bikes is at least mildly insulting to the Dutch bike community. I am inclined to think that I'm merely giving them good advice. I will say that the "Dutch frame lock", a key-operated contraption attached to the seat stays behind the seat post, is a good invention.